As far as televised national anthems are concerned, we’ve certainly seen a wide range of performances over the past few decades, haven’t we? From Whitney Houston’s triumphant rendition at the 1991 Super Bowl to Roseanne Barr’s bastardization of the gift of sound at a 1990 Padres game, it’s easy to feel like we’ve heard it all at this point.
But every once in a while, if we’re lucky, a performance comes along that catches us by surprise, sweeps us off our feet and and restores our sense of wonder — a rendition so bold, so unexpected, so full of capital-C choices that we feel as if we’re hearing Francis Scott Key’s patriotic piece for the first time all over again.
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Enter Flavor Flav, a six-time Grammy Award nominee — for rapping, not singing, a fact we absolutely can’t stress enough — who proudly stepped up to the microphone ahead of Sunday’s face-off between the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks. What followed, while not technically considered “treasonous,” was certainly a performance which will live in infamy.
When asked to describe Flav’s rendition during Monday’s installment of ESPN’s First Take, Stephen A. Smith had a fairly blunt suggestion: “How about awful?” He then demanded to know who thought it was a good idea to hire the rapper-turned-reality star in the first place.
“He wasn’t as bad as Fergie,” co-host Shannon Sharpe noted, referring to the former Black Eyed Peas singer’s jazzy rendition from the 2020 NBA All-Star Game. “But that’s not saying anything. … Just because you’re not the worst, that doesn’t mean your performance wasn’t bad.”
So, what is the worst national anthem to date? As far as basketball games are concerned, Smith gives it up to Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis, who famously botched the song ahead of a 1993 game between the New Jersey Nets and the Chicago Bulls.
“No one was worse than Carl Lewis,” Smith says. “I still see my brother [former Nets player] Derrick Coleman laughing, and it’s 30 years later. I still see him biting his jersey in East Rutherford. Flav wasn’t that bad.”
As for Flav, he isn’t taking the criticism too personally, if at all. He posted this message to X shortly after his performance on Sunday:
The anthem was a long time bucket list item,,, that was fun!
I can’t live my life worried about what people might say about me. I won’t let that stop me from trying new things and doing things I wanna do. Some people might not like that. But a sure failure is if you stop trying.
— FLAVOR FLAV 6/9 + 8/7 (@FlavorFlav) October 30, 2023
Hit PLAY on the video of ESPN’s coverage of Flav-gate above. (The national anthem segment begins around the 5:20 mark.) Then drop a comment with your take: Was he that bad?
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